Monday 15 February 2010
Weimar Germany ranks high among my favourite periods in all of history, a time of innovation and excitement; a great, divinely decadent theatre of experiences on which the Nazis closed the curtain forever. Cabaret is one of my favourite movies and I’ve read Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin, the Christopher Isherwood novels upon which it was based. Oh, how I would love to have been Sally Bowles!
It’s lovely to know that one of the cinematic epics of the age, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, a silent thriller made in 1927, the great classic of expressionist film-making, returned home last week in a director’s cut. A gala screening was held in Berlin’s Friedrichstadtpalast, a revue theatre that recalls classic 1930s-style cabaret. Now restored to a full version unseen in over eighty years it was the centre-point of this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
Metropolis tells the story of a future dystopia, set in the year 2000, (our past; Lang’s future!) where a privileged ruling elite enjoy a pampered life all built upon the labour of slaves living in a subterranean world. The most expensive film of its time, it was both a commercial and a critical failure. H. G. Wells, never much of a prophet, said that it gave “almost every possible foolishness, cliché, platitude and muddlement about mechanical progress…served up in a sauce of sentimentality that is all its own.”
As so often in these cases the movie had an afterlife of growing influence, a later inspiration to such film-makers as George Lucas and Ridley Scott. But at the time it was butchered by Paramount for the American market, with key scenes thought to be lost forever, until Fernando Martin Pena, an Argentinean film historian, managed to track down a pre-Paramount version in a Buenos Aires film archive in 2008. I hope to be able to see it at an early stage.